World's First Woman Premier Dies

ByABC News
October 10, 2000, 4:53 AM

C O L O M B O, Sri  Lanka, Oct. 10 -- Former Sri Lankan PrimeMinister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who died today at age 84,became the worlds first woman premier 40 years ago byaccident.

Hailing from a wealthy feudal family, Bandaranaikesucceeded her husband Solomon, who was shot dead by a Buddhistmonk at their home in September 1959.

A shy housewife who stayed in the background during herhusbands premiership, she accepted a call by Solomonssupporters to head the Sri Lanka Freedom Party he founded. Sheled it to victory in the July 1960 elections.

She was prime minister of the Indian Ocean island threetimes and led her party through nearly four decades duringwhich it scored spectacular election victories and sufferedstunning defeats.

Nationalized Schools, Insurance

Following her husbands policy of nationalization,Bandaranaike was responsible for taking radical measures thataltered the political and economic landscape of Sri Lanka.

She nationalized denominational schools and life insurance.

Bandaranaikes daughter, President Chandrika Kumaratunga,is now undoing what her mother did by privatizing most of SriLankas state firms including the telecommunication utilityand the national carrier.

In 1971, less than a year into her second term, a group ofMarxist youths mounted an armed insurrection againstBandaranaikes government. The uprising was smashed with thehelp of arms rushed in by friendly countries.

In 1972, Bandaranaike made Sri Lanka a republic, severingthe last constitutional links with Britain, which had ruled thecountry for 150 years before granting independence in 1948.

Statesmanship, Economic Regression

Bandaranaike is remembered for both her statesmanship andsocialist policies during the Cold War years that some sayprompted Sri Lankas economic regression.

She adopted major land reforms, restricting land ownershipto 50 acres and placed a ceiling on ownership ofproperty.